Thursday, November 13, 2008

"We're Never Going to Grow"

I was surrounded by coupons when the BFF-DRE called. "Have you seen the latest UU World?" she asked. "Not yet," I said, pinching the phone between my shoulder and my ear so that I could move the coupons that will give me free Carnation evaporated milk into the "going shopping tomorrow" pocket of my binder.

"We're never going to grow," she said.

I extracted myself from under the coupons for dog food, toothpaste, and flour and went to the mailbox. I read the article she referenced, "Dinner Dilemmas, Ethical Issues at the Thanksgiving Dinner Table."

"We're never going to grow," I sighed.

When The Husband came home, I handed him the article, without any comment. He read it. He shook his head.

"We're never going to grow."

None of this is embellishment for poetry's sake. Those were the exact words all of us used. (And I really was cutting coupons today.)

First of all, if you really want to compare apples to apples, I and the majority of the people I know, will be buying our turkey with the .39/lb voucher or coupon, not the "cheapest" option in the article, the $2.69 turkey. My friends who are vegetarian will be eating something that will probably involve tofu or seitan but tofurkey? Too expensive for their blood, thanks.

We got hard times coming, folks. Our job should be to reach out, show how to do more with less, (upcoming lesson on couponing will be forthcoming from yours truly) ... not imply that yeah, you can buy your cheap turkey, but you're poisoning your children, the earth, stealing money from hard working farmers and then there's the turkey ...

I'm sure there was much research and analysis put into this article. But with apologies to Dr. Phil, do you wanna be right or do you want to reach out to people?

Not all UUs have the opportunity nor the means to pop over to Whole Foods for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Wait ... I just admitted that I don't shop at Whole Foods. Will my UU "member in good standing" card be revoked?

Articles like this make a very clear point: if you can afford to, you should buy organic, free range, humane to the workers and the animal, products. If you can't afford to ... you should do without. Eat a cheese sandwich.

Organic tofu cheese, of course.


Jess said...

Yup. I am so sick and tired of this kind of nonsense taking the place of real, transformative ministry.

Kari said...

OH yeah. Absolutely. Thanks for singin' it.

My family is on to a whole bunch of beans and rice and s t r e t c h e d meat for the meat-a-tarians. Just beans for the veggies, thanks. Dry beans here, no fancy canned beans.

Outlet food store. Bare bottom buys. And we're barely above water.

And that's with one big job and my little job. What about folks WITHOUT!? Let's get real. Who has that inherent worth and dignity?

Only people who can shop "ethically"?

Charlie Talbert said...

Members of my congregation – with a big boost from our loves-to-cook minister – put together this holiday recipe collection a couple of years ago.

Most of the ingredients for the recipes are relatively inexpensive.

Christine Robinson said...

It's an unfortunate article, but remember that it was written in a different world: last Summer

Joel Monka said...

No Christine, even last summer a lot of us wouldn't have been able to pay $100 for an "ethical" turket dinner.

Tom said...

It is unfortunate that we as UU's have this brilliantly inclusive policy when it comes to spiritual paths but that when you walk into one of our churchs, or read UUA documents the "read between the lines" messages that are often given include:

"We'd prefer you be well-educated"
"We'd prefer you to be middle class or better"
"We'd prefer you to be liberal"
"If you don't agree with us, well that's just because we're smarter and more evolved than you are"

I could go on, but I think the point is clear enough. Because of this, we have a message that should soothe millions, that soothes a quarter-million on average. It truly breaks my heart.

vafitgirl said...

Oy. Haven't gotten my latest UU World yet, so will have to read that when it arrives.

I recently went vegetarian solely because of how animals in the US are raised for food--I have no problem eating humanely raised meat. However, that humanely raised meat is costly, so we end up eating vegetarian more often than not. And our Thanksgiving meal will center around a root vegetable stew (hopefully) baked in a pumpkin, not a $3.50/lb. free-range turkey. The money just isn't there.

That said, I don't expect everyone to be willing to give up meat in order to live the 7th principle. Doesn't being a UU give us each a certain amount of freedom to interpret what those principles mean to us and how we should apply them, and shouldn't UU World speak to everyone, wherever they may be on that spectrum?

The Eclectic Cleric said...

Haven't seen the article, and now I'm afraid to look. But I am SO tired of feeling like I have to apologize for my privileged, well-intended co-religionists who really DON'T get it, probably never will get it, and yet are so comfortable in their feeling of having "got it all" that they are either ambivalent about or completely oblivious to the odor of their smug, sanctimonious hypocrisy as it wafts out of our churches and into public purview. Do you remember the controversial "South Park" episode about hybrid cars? But the good news is, there are probably a lot fewer of those folk than we think. And...oops, there I go: apologizing again....

kimc said...

While the article may be ridiculous, it sounds to me that you all are doing the same thing you are accusing others of. You sound like you are saying you are superior because you are NOT middle class.
If you can't avoid sounding like you think you are superior for being poor and less educated or whatever you think you are less of, why do you expect others to be able to sound like they are not superior for being better off or better educated or better employed?
How can people acknowledge they are different without sounding superior? That's not a rhetorical question. It deserves an answer. What would someone who has more money than you have to say to not sound to you like they think they are superior?

Lizard Eater said...

Kimc, you've made some interesting assumptions, starting with the assumption that most of us are lower class, poor, and less educated. I won't speak for anyone save myself, but I would describe myself as upper middle class, and fairly educated, since I'm working on a masters degree.

Not being able to afford expensive items does not classify one as "poor." One may be paying unexpected medical bills, college tuition for oneself or one's children, or -- in this economic climate -- merely being cautious.

Even after re-reading my post and the ensuing comments, I am a little lost on what gave you the impression that anyone here feels themselves to be superior for being poorer, less educated, or lesser employed.

To answer your final question: "What would someone who has more money than you have to say to not sound to you like they think they are superior?"

Very simply, do not tell me that my choice to buy my .39/lb Thanksgiving turkey at the grocery store means that I am therefore a less ethical person than you.

kimc said...

Ok, that's fair enough. But when I read the article about dinner it seemed to me to say bad things about all of the choices -- they seemed to be advocating growing your own or not eating at all. and I didn't like it either. But it had nothing to do with being able to afford or not the fancy turkey.
I guess I did make some assumptions -- but I have heard/read a number of places where UUs complain about other UUs who don't accept working class people and make visitors uncomfortable about having advanced degrees, etc. And I just got a bit impatient with it. It seems to be asking me to hide who I am. I see that there is a problem with not being able to appeal to different kinds of people. But it just doesn't seem realistic to me to try to be all things to all people. While the philosophy and theology of UU may be something that could appeal to many people, the culture isn't. Should we get rid of the culture? What do we put in its place?
I submit that the human assumption that one's own way is normal and all other ways are suspect is pervasive and very difficult to fight off consistently.
Oh, and you asked what in the post or comments made me think what I said: How about comments like "...the odor of their smug, sanctimonious hypocrisy as it wafts out of our churches and into public purview." and ...the "read between the lines" messages that are often given include:

"We'd prefer you be well-educated"
"We'd prefer you to be middle class or better"
"We'd prefer you to be liberal"
"If you don't agree with us, well that's just because we're smarter and more evolved than you are"

Those comments sound condescending to me. They sound like the people who read that into the behavior of UUs might just be projecting. When someone comes into coffee hour who doesn't have an advanced degree, are we supposed to stop talking as if we have advanced degrees and start sounding like Sarah Palin, all folksy and cute? It's not that I don't understand it; we've rolled our eyes when, at the water communion, we hear people mention their incredible world travels, year after year, when we can't afford to go to The City for dinner. but what are they supposed to do? ok, not saying you're morally inferior for not being like them is a good start, but then what? Somehow I don't think that's enough to satisfy people who come in feeling defensive.

Tom said...

As you addressed my comments directly, I would say as well that I am all of those things...well-educated, upper middle class and moderate-liberal. I have been in too many churches however where I watch my fellow UU's look down their noses at the people that don't fit these patterns. It is no different than the subset of conservatives that look at the less fortunate and say "they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps just like I did...nobody ever helped me, I did it all by myself" (which is usually, on closer examination, not true). Those conservatives, however, also don't care and feel that the less fortunate deserve their fate. The difference with UU is that we do have this wonderfully inclusive philosophy and then shoot ourselves in the foot when some of us project these unspoken attitudes. It is not about not sharing the many wonderful experiences we have. We have all been at the party where we end up in a group of people talking about whatever topic and had both the good (people reaching out and making an effort to include everyone in the conversation) and the bad (ignoring those not able to participate at the conversation on their level). That is all I am talking about. I am proud of all I have accomplished in my life, but I am always looking for common ground with those that visit our church. There is no reason to not enjoy both a discussion of Kantian ethics and a discussion of fishing or football...and a tip of the cap to those that discuss both in the same conversation. ;-)

kimc said...

"I watch my fellow UU's look down their noses at the people that don't fit these patterns."

what, exactly, do they do or say that indicates this attitude? Maybe I'm blind, but I haven't seen that very often. I have seen it when we had a visitor who was an evangelical Christian who was vehemently anti-choice, but that was the only time I can remember seeing that attitude. There are, of course, those people who walk away from anything that might be even the least bit confrontational, but that's a permanent personality trait and has nothing to do with class or education of the confronter.
My experience is that people who expect to be looked down on by some group will experience being looked down on whether or not they were.*
Then there are those incidents like the one where we had a big controversy in our church, and when we had a meeting to talk about it, most people on the minority side of the issue didn't show up for fear of not being listened to. I asked the one couple who did show up if they felt they had been heard, and they said, yes, they felt we had listened and understood what their position was and didn't feel disrespected. Those others who didn't show up still felt unheard and unrespected, but they never gave us a chance to show them otherwise.
so, tell me what to look for to see if I see it in our church. Maybe I just don't know what to look for so I'm not seeing it.

*maybe I'm sensitive to this because my partner has a tendency to assume people are thinking badly of her even when they are not.

Jess said...

KimC -- I had an experience just this morning in coffee hour that might illustrate the point, particularly around food choices. A group of us were talking about how we could better include the children in coffee hour by putting out hot chocolate mix instead of just coffee and tea, and one woman turned the conversation immediately to her disdain for buying any chocolate that isn't fair trade, in the process specifically ridiculing anyone who let their kids eat anything Hershey's from Hallowe'en.

Jess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristina said...

This is fascinating to me.

First, confessions. I buy mostly organic food. I am middle-class, and highly educated. I buy fair trade chocolate chips for my chocolate chip cookies, and they cost about $5.50/bag. This means that we get chocolate chip cookies VERY infrequently.

But please, I'm not elitist, and I'm not looking down my nose, and I'm as confused as the rest of you about how to make this work.

Right now, my family is broke. We have medical debt that we're struggling with. We can't take vacations, we have to be careful about how much we drive our 9 year old car, etc. I'm not complaining, but I'm saying that we get the feeling broke business. We're livign paycheck to paycheck.

We choose to buy organic for all fo those green reasons, but also because of fear. My form of cancer feeds on estrogen, and I'm terrified of hormones in meat and dairy, for example. I have a little extra push because of my terror.

We're eating a lot less meat, because we only buy sustainable, grass fed, free range, yada yada. Lentil soup is a staple. We planted a garden and ate from it this year. We're planning on getting our own (egg laying) chickens for our city lot.

And we can do this because I am a stay at home mom.

I know that not everyone CAN make my choices. And I haven't the foggiest idea what to do about it.

I bought food for the food bank this week, drawing from their list of needed supplies. I bought organic baby food....and wondered if I was a fool because I could have bought twice as much if I'd bought conventional baby food. But I only fed my child organic baby food (home made!), so how dare I offer less to a less fortunate child? But what about quantity? I'm not satisfied with ANY of my answers.

I don't want anybody to do without. We struggle to buy groceries because of our organic choice, and if we made less money it wouldn't be a choice (being hungry is not an option I'm willing to accept). I know I'm fortunate, even when I'm broke.

So how do I reconcile my ideas about ethical food with issues of the homeless, poverty, etc?

I have NO idea. Really, none. I'm flummoxed.

And that is the truth.

Kristina said...

In response to the fair-trade cocoa:

First - it wasn't me! LOL

But here is what I think. I think that if someone wants fair-trade organic, they have to offer to bring it. Instead of saying "You need to provide this for me!" they need to say, "I prefer fair trade products, so is it okay if I bring it to share with everyone, or does anyone have an issue with that?" Very few people will turn down an offer for free stuff.

But expecting others to live up to the double-cost organic standard? Ridiculous, in my opinion, nad you have every right to be offended.

When we leave our home, we eat what is offered. In this way, Tessa (age five) has eaten Oreos, etc. We don't buy it, but we don't forbid it, and figure it will all work out. Food is about community, and the last thing I want to do is isolate my community (because community is one of my values) with my food choices (though food choices are part of my values).

I think that there's room for both.

kimc said...

Jess --- I agree with you that sneering about people who make other choices about their kids' food is inappropriate. I haven't seen that in my congregation. I hope I never do. But I will watch for it now, to see if I've just been oblivious.
I agree with Kristrina about the solution -- bring it along and share. I do that with tea -- when I have time I bring good loose-leaf tea and a teapot and make a big pot of GOOD tea for everyone. Some appreciate it, some don't care. No big deal. Back when I had more money, I kept the church supplied with better quality tea bags.
I sure hope the economy gets better soon. To see my solution for the auto industry, go to my livejournal:

Kristina said...

I finally read the article that first inspired this post - it had been languishing in my magazine rack, but with my husband working late (very late :-( ) tonight I had time to take a look.

I was surprised that the article was written the way it was, after reading the comments about it first. I thought that the author acknowledged the imperfections of the system, and that the pointing out that (for example) Tofurky costs 200% more than a Butterball spoke volumes about the inherent problems in the system. In their organic cranberry paragraph, they mention that fish fertilizers contain mercury and may rely on overfishing. The article does not say definitively the "right" answers, and I think that leaves room for those who choose different priorities (choosing pesticides over overfishing?).

I think that what was wrong about the article is not what was said, but what was NOT said. How can an average family, struggling with money, buy ethical food? How do we support people in poverty with ethical food choices? THOSE questions were missing.

But I don't think that the article was wrong, per se. The bolded sidebar said, "Addressing ethical issues surrounding food means balancing many often competing factors, such as animal welfare, environmental impact, and cost." That's true, not matter how you slice it. You can weigh the options and come up with different solutions, but there is no question in my mind that in an ideal world we'd all eat organic, local, sustainable, ethical, humanely raised food. We don't live in that ideal world, and I know that, so the question is how do we compromise. I thought that the article did a decent job of addrssing that.

Am I going to get flamed for this? Or ignored? I hope not. But I am interested in hearing responses, because I think that it's an important dialogue, and one I'm trying to understand, as well.

I recently got a "new" pair of jeans from Value Village because that is what I can part BECAUSE I eat organic. I struggle with this on a daily basis, so it's personal to me.

Thanks for getting me thinking.

Tom said...


You raise many good points and I agree with you about what was not said. I think the biggest frustration for me is the fact that we have this remarkable vision of what spirituality can be, but we often make ourselves so inaccessible and then wonder why we don't grow. I'm not talking about lowering our vision, I'm talking about helping people get there. If you are standing on top of a mountain with a beautiful view and you see someone standing at the bottom, it is easy to say "c'mon up! The view is great up here!" Some will try to climb, many of those will fail and leave. Many won't even try. Or you could say, "Hey, grab on to that tree there, and then come over to the cracked rock....etc.." and guide them to where you are. Or if you really wanted to do something, you could go down and take the path up together and maybe both of you learn something new along the way. I think that we are frequently guilty of doing the first choice of those three. The article, aside from a case of bad timing given the economy, makes many assumptions about what the reader already knows. That's fine if we want to be stagnant and mostly irrelevant. I would like to think we could be much more.

As far as getting flamed or ignored, I hope not. Discussions like these are what we need.